A gunman was wrestled to the floor of a downtown Toronto grocery store on Friday, leaving stockpiling shoppers stampeding for the exits amid fears of being caught in a crossfire.
The panic erupted at the Loblaws at Portland and Queen Streets, at a time when lines were running long and tempers were running short. Like at other grocery stores across the city, coronavirus concerns were leading to a run on food and toilet paper.
Then, shortly before 2 p.m., a fracas broke out on Aisle One. Two shoppers started grappling with each other between shelves housing a dwindling supply of organic foodstuffs. As the fight moved from the back of the store to the front, one of the men started screaming that the other had a handgun stashed in his waistband.
“We heard the screaming and we said ‘Wait a second that’s not normal for a store,’ “ said Loblaws employee Mason Lafford, 22.
“There was a bit of a bear-hug wrestling match,” said his co-worker Brian Feeney, 29.
Both employees decided to rush in to help to subdue the gunman, as most patrons of the store fled in a panic.
“Just separating his hands to get the gun was crazy,” said Mr. Feeney. But he said he wrestled away what looked like a revolver and brought the weapon to a back room.
His colleague then worked with other staff to keep the man pinned to the ground. “I was sitting on top of him,” said Mr. Lafford.
Both employees described the shopper who had wrestled with the gunman as a hero. They said paramedics brought him to hospital because he hurt his ankle. No shots were fired.
Officers with the Toronto Police Service arrested the gunman and seized the weapon. Police say he will face firearm possession charges.
“It was just a dispute – it had nothing with coronavirus,” said Staff Sergeant Izzy Bernardo of the city’s 14 Division.
The altercation "is entirely unrelated to our business or recent rush shopping,” said Catherine Thomas, a spokeswoman for the grocery chain.
Some employees described the arrested man as a disruptive customer who was accusing other patrons of staring at him.
Chris Evans, 29, said he was walking along the street when he saw people stampeding down escalator and out the grocery store’s front doors.
“I thought it was people freaking out over the pandemic but then I heard people yelling ‘he has a gun.’ "